Over the weekend, like many other friends and families during these unprecedented circumstances, we held our weekend get-together using Zoom. Four weeks into lockdown and unsurprisingly, enthusiasm and optimism amongst friends was beginning to ebb, so someone suggested we should each say one word that would describe how we were feeling. When it came to my turn, the word I chose was “Amazed”, and this is how I explained my glass half full theory in these trying times:
Working in the voluntary and community sector one can become used to the empathy and commitment shown on a daily basis by volunteers, staff, and all the people who use our services, but what I have been amazed about is how individuals, volunteers and countless voluntary and community sector organisations have rallied to provide support to communities across the huge, almost 2,000 square miles of Northumberland. From the amazing number of new neighbourhood groups that have sprung up to support our shielded, elderly and isolated people, to all of the previously existing organisations across the county that have redeployed their volunteers, staff, and in some cases even their own family to support people through these difficult times.
Northumberland CVA is no exception to this. Although working from home, our staff have continued to provide the same level, if not a greater level of service than ever before. We have continued to support all our volunteers who, like our staff, have needed to re-adjust to working differently. Instead of supporting our regular digital inclusion sessions and our assisted shopping trips to local amenities, our volunteers are now regularly ringing our elderly service users to ensure they are safe and well, helping them do their shopping online, giving instructions over the phone on how to use tablets and laptops safely and securely, reminding them not to let people into their homes and warning them of the risks of scams and the need to stay safe.
In week 1 of the lockdown, we contacted businesses, existing voluntary organisations and new community groups across the county, gathering information, guidance and links to resources into a newly created central point of contact on our website for individuals and groups to access.
We created a new COVID-19 Facebook page and linked it to all the new small mutual aid-type groups we could find. Local County Councillors and voluntary sector organisations are now posting regularly to the page, letting people know about new and continuing services, and we're linking it all up with Northumberland Communities Together. We have used our new Facebook page to direct people to financial help and support, and to government support for businesses. We have signposted volunteers through the page to opportunities outside the NHS volunteer recruitment.
At a very early stage in the crisis, Northumberland CVA identified the necessity to keep the multitude of new groups informed of good practice, particularly around safeguarding. We have written new, easy to understand factsheets and resources aimed specifically towards new groups and individuals who had never volunteered before. We have advised groups by email and telephone and made everything readily available on our website to download.
By week 2 of the lockdown we had written and distributed a survey to voluntary and community sector organisations in Northumberland, asking them to report on the effects of the coronavirus on their service and the potential impact post COVID-19. We are now collating the responses and they will be available for the sector in Northumberland and shared with Voluntary Organisations' Network North East (VONNE), as part of their regional survey.
As lead partner in the delivery of the Northumberland Bridge Project, which helps move individuals who are furthest from the labour market closer to employment, we have worked together swiftly with our partners and in record time developed a whole new process for referrals onto the project in order to ensure that none of our vulnerable beneficiaries are affected. All the Bridge partners have either continued to deliver their usual services or have adjusted them to ensure that absolutely no-one registered on the Bridge Project will be unable to access their Bridge Worker or intervention.
We are also continuing to support groups with governance and funding requests and to provide our regular fortnightly e-bulletin, which provides so much information to the voluntary and community sector, to individuals, trustees and to the public sector in Northumberland.
In addition to all of this, I am amazed at how many of our staff, outside their normal working hours, are volunteering to help in their own communities.
And right across the UK, and in every country affected by COVID-19 there are so many people doing similar things to support their own communities. So, although we are all going through such unprecedented times, I am truly AMAZED at such a wonderful response from everyone in such sad and difficult circumstances.
I have to say, once I’d finished explaining my amazement, that the words chosen by friends and family who followed me during our weekend get-together, were a lot more positive than they might previously have been!
Keep Safe, Stay Home, Protect our NHS.
CEO, Northumberland CVA